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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#62)

Visited another new place in Scotland and spent much of the week there:

Islay and Jura are two isles (islands) off the west coast of Scotland known for being remote, sparsely populated, wild, beautiful and full of some of the best whisky in the world. My Dad and I ventured out to find all of this to be very true indeed.


Favorite new music: The latest from Makaya McCraven, We’re New Again: A Reimagining has been a great companion to lunches and sketching.

The Chicago drummer and producer transforms Gil-Scott Heron’s final album into a masterpiece of dirty blues, spiritual jazz, and deep yearning.

https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/gil-scott-heron-makaya-mccraven-were-new-again-a-reimagining-by-makaya-mccraven/


Quote that made me think:

Don’t allow your rituals to become ruts.

Todd Henry

George Leonard and The Power of the Mind: this reference came up from a previous book note, and I read the Esquire article that provided the seed for his later book, Mastery.

This frontier thinking has venerable roots, especially in the Eastern martial arts, all of which share a common faith in an energy source called ki in Japanese, ch’i in Chinese, pneuma in Greek, and prana in Sanskrit. In the ancient tradition, ki is the fundamental energy of the universe that connects and relates all things. By controlling the flow of this energy in one’s own body or projecting it toward external objects, the martial artist can supposedly achieve extraordinary powers. Legends abound of masters who can stop an opponent in his tracks from halfway across the room or even throw him head over heels. Karate practitioners generally claim that ki, even more than muscular strength, makes it possible for them to break bbards or concrete blocks.

Thus far, ki has proved difficult to measure, and skeptics tend to attribute its powers to suggestion, a sort of dynamic placebo effect. To the pragmatist, this distinction is unimportant. As a practitioner of aikido, an art in which ki plays an especially important role, I’ve generally found a strong correlation between my perception of personal ki and the power of my techniques. The idea of ki can offer the untrained person an effective way of gaining a sensation of increased energy along with relaxation, especially during times of fatigue and stress. Here’s an exercise designed to demonstrate the power that can come from visualizing ki.

https://classic.esquire.com/article/1988/5/1/the-power-of-the-mind

I didn’t know much about George Leonard and his book prior, but based on a brief scan of notes from James Clear’s blog, I plan to pick it up.


Sir William Osler and the power of work: Osler was one of the most important figures in the founding of modern medicine, and said the following in one of his books:

Let each hour of the day have its allotted duty, and cultivate that power of concentration which grows with its exercise, so that the attention neither flags nor wavers, but settles with bull-dog tenacity on the subject before you. Constant repetition makes a good habit fit easily in your mind, and by the end of the session you may have gained that most precious of all knowledge—the power of work.

From Cal Newport:

We don’t teach this any more.

Modern educational institutions care a lot about content: what theories we teach, what ideas students are exposed to, what skills they come away knowing. But we rarely address the more general question of how one transforms their mind into a tool well-honed for elite-level cognitive work.


Book excerpt that I loved:

Although the strategy of gaining happiness by working to get whatever it is we find ourselves wanting is obvious and has been used by most people throughout recorded history and across cultures, it has an important defect, as thoughtful people throughout recorded history and across cultures have realized: For each desire we fulfill in accordance with this strategy, a new desire will pop into our head to take its place. This means that no matter how hard we work to satisfy our desires, we will be no closer to satisfaction than if we had fulfilled none of them. We will, in other words, remain dissatisfied.” (William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life)


How to be perfect: A poem by Ron Padgett that’s got some brilliant advice and a subtle power. I’m adding it to my regular re-read list. Here’s just a small sampling (it’s much longer):

Look at that bird over there.

After dinner, wash the dishes.

Calm down.

Visit foreign countries, except those whose inhabitants have expressed a desire to kill you.

Don’t expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.

Meditate on the spiritual. Then go a little further, if you feel like it.

What is out (in) there?

HT to Austin Kleon

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57243/how-to-be-perfect


What made me grateful last week:

  • Re-discovering cribbage and playing cards. Can’t think of a better way to end a day.
  • Working from home meant more time with my Dad during his visit.
  • Doing blind self-portraits with Vivian:

Lastly, check out what we’re up to now.

Categories
Moving to Scotland Travel

Notes from Islay and Jura

Took a trip over to Islay and Jura with my Dad last week for a few days, which was a fittings cap for his trip here during the month of February. Here are some notes and pics.

  • Islay and Jura are isles (islands) off the west coast of Scotland known for the number of distilleries (9-10 depending on how you count) within relatively small distance between each. Because of their location, they take some time to get to, but the driving is great from Glasgow through the Trossacks National Park and the along the lochs, both for scenery and for the fun of the winding road. It’s approximately 2.5 hours to the remote ferry terminal of Kennacraig and another 2 hour ferry ride to Islay.
  • We stayed in Port Ellen, on the south-end of the island, at the Trout Fly Guest House, which served a great breakfast and was an ideal location for hitting the whisky trail.
  • The whisky trail (aka the three distilleries walk) starts in Port Ellen and connects Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries with an excellent walking trail that totals about 4 miles total. This was the first days excursion, hitting all three with walking in between tastings was perfect for evening things out for a day of drinking. The weather was cold but our bellies warm. Nae bother as they say.
  • The second days excursions were more adventurous, as we set off to go to the isle of Jura and the Jura distillery. This meant getting on a tiny ferry that fit about four cars which somehow they managed to get six on at times. Oh, and you had to back onto it, which made things much more interesting. Glad I didn’t have any whisky beforehand!
  • The Jura ferry was unexpectedly closed for the morning, which only meant we had time to visit another remote distillery, Bunnahabhain, located at the end of a 4 mile single track road just north of the ferry terminal. This was the best tasting we had by far (generous drams doesn’t begin to describe the size of the pours) and we got to see some highland cows on the way, bonus!
  • Our nights were spent retiring to the local (only) hotel bar for a couple of beers and a big dinner, before heading back to the guest house to play cribbage, sample more of the whisky we obtained during the day, and listen to music (The Essential Merle Haggard, Best Tracks from Tarantino Films, Dave Brubeck Timeout).
  • I had a basic enough understanding of whisky, and specifically scotch whisky, before the trip but had never tasted as many of such caliber and variation and am still very much a beginner in this world of spirits. In order to understand the drink you have to, well, drink it. Let’s just say I have more work to do.
  • I did learn quite a bit of random facts about whisky throughout the trip:
  • Peated water is also a source of the smoky flavor in whisky, particularly in Laphroaig. Dad grabbed some water from a stream on Islay in a bottle and you could taste the peat in it when we got home.
  • Peat, the source of smoke in Islay whisky and fuel for homes as well, is just earth cut into bricks. A soft earth fossil fuel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peat
  • Whisky is only considered whisky after it’s been aged for 3 years and one day, the one extra day being added to account for the leap year that happens every 4 years (side note: this may or may not be true based on some brief looking online ¯\(ツ)/¯).
  • Whisky is aged in all kinds of barrels, but most common is bourbon barrels of American white oak that are shipped over, sometimes whole, sometime in pieces to be reassembled by a cooper. The other most common is sherry. The barrels are recharred/recharged after use, and can only be re-used 6-7 times max, typically more like 3-4 (in the case of Bunnahabhain).
  • Sherry barrels are very popular for maturing and finishing whisky and since sherry is no longer a popular drink, these casks are becoming increasingly expensive and will be harder to come by as time goes on. The link between sherry and whisky goes back a long time, with sherry being made in Spain in British colonies and imported to great Britain.
  • The bottle date of a whisky matters, but it’s generally not listed. The bottling of an 18 year old scotch will vary over time as the barrels (and other factors) change.

Map of some of the main destinations we visited on our way to and from Islay and Jura. (Glasgow on the right, Islay and Jura on your far left)

Categories
Moving to Scotland Travel

Notes from St Andrews

Spent 72 hours in St Andrews with my Dad and the family last week, here are some notes:

  • The golf courses (there are seven that are part of St Andrews courses) the club houses, the Royal and Ancient club, and the British Golf Museum are all iconic and of course a must see for anyone the plays or is interested sports in any way. The sheer size of the space that the courses occupy and the open style of the links style courses are wildly different than anything I had seen before. It was crazy cold and windy and then snowy and then sunny and back again, but no matter, the courses remained busy throughout.
  • Speaking of cold…St Andrews is cold! Granted, we did have Storm Ciara to contend with and it’s a coastal town (and Moscow and Labrador in Newfoundland lie on the same latitude), so this is expected, but respect due to what the students and golfers there contend with in the winter months.
  • The cathedral and castle ruins almost stole the show from the golf course. The size of the ruin and the fact that it was built in the 1400s (with tombs and stone coffins concealed under massive stone planks) made it a great site to visit. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Andrews_Cathedral https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Andrews_Castle
  • Lavulins Bottle Shop – great selection of beers, whisky and wine. Picked up a draft liter-to-go of The Kerner’s Foeder Beer and a bottle of the Dalmore 15 year to keep us company upon arrival. https://www.luvians.com/
  • There are a ton of great pubs and restaurants. Here are some highlights:
    Rocca Deli for great coffee and lunch – https://www.roccadeli.co.uk/
    Forgan’s was great for a family dinner and very kid friendly – https://www.forgans.co.uk/
    The sister restaurant to Forgan’s, called Mitchell, was equally good for breakfast – https://www.mitchellsstandrews.co.uk/
  • Speaking of golf and good pubs, we spent some time in a few.
    The Dunevegan (aka the 19th hole) is impressive simply for the backstory and all the pictures covering the wall of the famous players and celebreties that have been there – https://www.dunvegan-hotel.com/
    The Greyfriars Inn Pub was another classic British pub and St Andrews Brewing and Brewdog St Andrews offered very different experiences, the former more classic and warm, the latter more modern and cool.
  • February was pretty empty and we enjoyed being able to get in and out of everything with ease, something we wouldn’t be able to do in the summer months.
  • The town is bigger that most people realize and the golf courses are just one part. There are nearly 10,000 students that attend the university, a bustling little downtown of restaurants, shops and pubs, and two large beaches.
  • It’s way closer to us than I realized, only an hour and forty-five minutes from Glasgow and there are some great roads and views along the way.

We didn’t have much time and I didn’t get any drawing in but I’m looking forward to my next visit.


Here’s a map of the journey:

Here are some pics from the sites referenced above:

Categories
Moving to Scotland Travel

First visit to Amsterdam

Spent my first time in this city last weekend, hanging out with my good friend Chris. Here are some notes.

  • Nothing planned at all except for the Van Gogh museum (learned the hard way about museum booking in advance after Paris).
  • The Van Gogh museum is absolutely worth it and one of my favorite museum experiences to date. Something new I learned was that he started seriously pursuing painting later in life and studied, practiced and struggled to improve for years to develop what would eventually become is signature style. One of his earliest works (The Potato Eaters) was heavily criticized because the figures had “tons of mistakes”, and one of his idols wrote to him “you can’t be serious” when he saw a print.
  • Now I understand the bike thing in Amsterdam. I love it and am jealous that the city it built for it, but it does make it hard to be a pedestrian at times.
  • The beer is superb and we sampled many, some of my favorite spots from the trip (with many other still to get to):
  • I enjoyed the architecture and the canals and the cafes and alleyways. Something new everywhere you looked. It felt dense but not claustrophobic.
  • Went to plenty of “coffee” shops to sample the wares and it was nothing special after living in the states where it’s legal to buy. Not as many options seemingly and the quality could be excellent or just ok.
  • Food was good, but I didn’t really get a chance to go to any spots I would consider particularly amazing. Bakers and Roasters was a particularly good brunch spot and the pancakes were good at De Vier Pilaren.
  • Amsterdam airport is 👍🏼. Easy to get into, out of, and through.
  • I heard Maxwells Urban Hang Suite multiple times at different place while there. 🤔
  • People were friendly but not overly so. Not a lot of chat.
  • There is a colony of parakeets living in Vondelpark: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/the-netherlands/articles/a-colony-of-wild-parakeets-is-flourishing-in-amsterdam-heres-why/